Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Learning to Self-Promote: A Writer's Journey.

When I went to university some years back to improve my main motivation was to become a better writer. I knew I had good ideas, but wasn’t confident that I had the skills to put them down in the best way. I promptly finished my BA (Hons) in English and Writing for Performance and felt better equipped to tackle the writing world. Unfortunately though, the need to get to work and earn a living reared its ugly head and all of my plans and ambitions were put on hold.
            I went into teaching. I loved it, but always in the back of my mind was this little tingle that it wasn’t really what I wanted, and it had never been the real objective of going back into education in the first place. I rapidly signed up for my MA in Creative Writing on a part-time course. I needed to. Teaching at High School just didn’t give me that stimulation I had when I was writing and at least by doing the course it forced me to write.
            The course was brilliant. I felt like I learnt so much from the analysis of other people’s writing and by learning even more to analyse my own work, therefore making me better at editing myself. One thing it didn’t teach me, though, was how hard it was to actually get anything published and then how difficult it would be to promote it.
            At the end of my course I had an MA but I also had this beautiful novel. It was my pride and joy and I believed it was good because I’d been judged on it in order to pass my qualification. That’s what led to my total impatience – plus I’m never one to wait around anyway.
            So, I self-published.
            It probably wasn’t the best course of action – so I’m constantly told – but actually it worked very well for me and I sold over 350 copies of the book in this format. It even won the Silver Award for Best Horror Novel with ForeWord Magazine in 2007. Following on from that success I was then able to negotiate a deal with The House of Murky Depths and they have so far published three books in the Vampire Gene Series.
            Myspace was my first dabble with social networking, and only this week I deleted the account – despite having over 12,000 views because I just didn’t think it worked for me anymore. Since then Facebook, Goodreads and my blog have become the outlets for all of my social and business networking and recently friends have been sending me something called ‘Linked In’ (not sure what it’s about yet though ...)
            To a lot of people when you’ve written a book they believe the hard part is over. To some extent that’s true, but a writer these days is now obliged to also promote that book. Your responsibility begins in earnest on completion, but really you need to start telling people before you finish. How to do that, of course, is the million dollar question. Promoting is the hard. You have to be confident without appearing arrogant and getting the balance right between promotion and spamming can be difficult. I’m never sure if I do have it quite right, so I always lean towards less is more because I’ve seen so many people go completely over the top with it. However I do have a sort of formula and this is what works for me..

Some Social networking Dos and Don’ts.

What not to do ...
  • ·        One of my pet hates is people leaving adverts on my page. I never do that. I think it’s rude and it’s disrespectful. Often I’ve had new people come onto my page and immediately post a link telling me all about their book and how wonderful they are without even saying ‘hello’. That to me is a big, no, no.
  • ·        Another faux pas is posting your website on every single comment you leave. Or a full blown advert for your latest book. Okay!!! We get it: you’re a writer too – but don’t do that because it won’t win you any friends or new readers it will just annoy them.
  • ·        Don’t harp on all the time about how wonderful you are.
  • ·        Don’t stalk other people’s pages and then just talk about yourself all the time on them – engage in conversations, you might just enjoy yourself and make some real friends.
  • ·        When sending out events – don’t keep resending the same one. If friends have refused you won’t make them say they are coming by re-inviting, but you might encourage them to delete you for spamming.
  • ·        Spam emails/private messages – OMG! (You wouldn’t believe how many of these I get.) Don’t resort to it. It doesn’t work. Event invites are enough, if people don’t respond then leave them alone.
  • ·        Never respond to a bad review in public. You only make yourself look an idiot and people think you’re unprofessional. If you don’t like the review – suck it up. The reviewer is entitled to their opinion and you can’t please everyone so just get over yourself.
  • ·        Never talk politics or religion – everyone has their own beliefs in this area and it won’t make you friends but is more likely to lose you some.
  • ·        Don’t be snide about other people online – even if their status is the most annoying self-obsessed bullshit you’ve ever seen. It doesn’t look good and only makes people think you’re unpleasant and bitchy.
  • ·        Never review friend’s books unless you have a lot of positive things to say about them. You should be objective and balanced in your argument but if you didn’t like it – it’s always best to stay quiet about it.
What works for me  ...

There’s no formula for perfect promotion but what I find works for me is just being myself with everyone. What you see is what you get. I also really enjoy interacting with people on Facebook etc ... you could say I’m a little addicted... 
  • ·        Mix up status updates with a combination of personal things and work related things even on my official page.
  • ·        Be cheerful as much as possible, because let’s face it if you’re constantly feeling sorry for yourself then people will get fed up with it and stop listening. Also, when you do have a rant they are more likely to listen because you don’t do it all the time.
  • ·        Respond to comments that your friends leave, even if you put a ‘like’ on it. Be interested in other people and what they are doing – it’s not all about you after all.
  • ·        Respond to your friend’s updates and statuses if you expect them to engage in yours. Be supportive of other people and genuinely mean it.
  • ·        Reply to private messages – even if they are from some guy in Turkey asking you to marry him. You can still be polite when you tell him to ‘get lost’.
  • ·        Definitely advertise your achievements. There’s nothing wrong with telling your friends you’re up for awards or have been invited to attend a convention as a guest. That’s all good and positive after all and it does help to raise your profile with others. It shows that your work is valued.
  • ·        If there are awards that need votes – remind people about them but don’t beg them to vote for you, it sounds desperate.
  • ·        Pat other people on the back if they win and you don’t – it’s only an award and it’s not the end of the world. Be positive about being shortlisted – because hey – that’s a huge achievement anyway!
  • ·        When sending out invitations to events it helps if you write a covering note. Mostly I apologise for sending just in case it is not wanted or they live too far away. It doesn’t hurt to be polite and aware that not everyone is interested.
  • ·        Be positive and upbeat. That’s the biggest and most import of my own rules.

Blog like crazy!

There’s also blogging of course. Mine is over 9000 hits now. One thing you should do if you have a blog is keep an eye on your stats. I have a stats counter that analyses the hits. At the click of a button I can see the IP addresses of all people who log on and it shows me where they are from (don’t worry it’s not full names and addresses only areas or countries). It also reveals how they found the site – even showing you the google pathway that led them to the page. This kind of information is useful to help you analyse your tagging process. Tagging is a great resource and helps people find you by accident. It helps if you think ‘out of the box’ when selecting tags for the main page – and always tag the blogs.
            Other results that I look at are ‘returning visitors’. At the end of the day you could be doing something wrong if your website or blog is getting a very low return rate. If you are posting interesting blogs or the type of information that the reader wants to see then there should be good returns results.
            There has to be a balance between attracting new readers and keeping old ones. I’m no expert on this of course, but I try to mix up the information as much as possible. Sometimes I blog on a film I’ve seen. At other times I write about the publishing industry exploring things that I believe might interest aspiring writers. Then, of course, I post all of my news or latest events. It’s important to keep the blog updated whatever you decide to put on it though. Just think about it. How many times have you gone onto your favourite writer’s website and found that it hasn’t changed in six months? Eventually you stop looking for that information, after all what’s the point in returning if there’s nothing new to learn? So it’s a good thing to bear in mind when maintaining your blog or website. I try to put something up every few days these days – and I’ve seen an increase in hits recently so hopefully it’s working. If I'm going to be a way from my computer for more than a few days, I even write some before hand and schedule them to go up while I'm away. It's about being organised as well as consistent.


Overall promoting takes up a lot of your time. Once you’ve sorted out your social networking sites and blogs you’ve got to get out there and meet people. That’s where conventions come in. This is where the real time and money goes.
            In order to meet the right publishers and maybe even interest more readers you have to get out there and meet them. There are several Horror and Fantasy conventions that are good for promotion. My favourite used to be FantasyCon, but this isn’t always the best selling event; although I have seen a huge increase in sales there over the last three years which I hope is down to the fact that the word is getting out about my books. If you’re new on the circuit, or self-published, don’t expect to do well here on sales. The event does attract, however, a good selection of publishers and agents.
            There is also EasterCon, which is huge. It has about 12-1300 people attending every year. It is an excellent event to get involved with. EasterCon organisers are very open to new people being panellists. My first EasterCon I was given 6 panels over the course of the weekend. Panels are good things for writers. It’s an opportunity to talk intelligently in front of an audience. A good moderator will know who you are and will introduce you properly explaining what you write or will give you the opportunity to do so yourself. It’s also a very good selling event. I’ve seen the most unlikely books sell at EasterCon and I think that is because there are more fans attending, whereas some of the smaller cons attract mostly writers, publishers and agents, who are less likely to buy your books. Also there is no snobbery at EasterCon. ALL writers can become involved at the mass signing events. So whether you are published by one of the majors or by a small independent press, you’ll be treated the same.
            I’ve recently discovered Asylum – which is a steampunk convention in Lincoln. I was invited as a guest this year only to learn the event attracts over 800 people. The organisation was fabulous and I was treated wonderfully. I’m invited back next year also and I’m hoping to get more involved in the panels. This isn’t necessarily the place you’d go to if you want to meet publishers and agents – but it’s a great selling event and is full of potential readers. It’s also growing in size and had become the second biggest UK convention. It may even take that crown from EasterCon next year. Also, Asylum have invited me to return as a guest again next year, so I'll definitely be attending.
            Smaller more intimate events are NewCon (2 Yearly – but a whole weekend) and AltFiction which is usually only running for a day but apparantly next year it is planned  to run over two days.There are more but I will be honest and say I haven’t attended them.
            Outside of the UK -  I also attend Gallifrey in LA. My partner, David J Howe, and I are invited as guests and guest status makes all of the difference. In the USA we get extremely well treated and sales are incredible. There are also great panel opportunities.
            That’s where the time and money element of promotion comes in. Attending Cons is expensive and while you’re away from home you aren’t writing – but if you’re smart, you will be working. 
              I could say a whole lot more, but I think that's enough for now, except to say - Keep plugging away at the promo ... but remember, not too much ...

Sam Stone 12.10.10

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